Hubsklogging two Euro-trips, both of which were for work conferences slash team meetings.
I officially roll into the Eurozone via Toulouse after a connecting flight in Munich. My advisor had bought some duty-free Cuban rum in the Munich airport, and asked me to carry it through French customs. Her passport is stamped without issue. I’ve got the rum in hand as I approach the customs window, and I slide the worker my passport. He looks my documentation over, and eyes the booze. He locks eyes with me, and says “You cannot have that here. Where did you get it?”. Before I say anything, the phrase “It’s not mine” pops into my head, where it is immediately dismissed. I’ve watched enough episodes of COPS to know that it’s essentially a guilty plea to claim that something I’m holding doesn’t belong to me. So I tell him that I got it at the Munich airport, and (jokingly) that he can have some if he wants. He looks back at me and says “This is not a laughing matter, I’ll need to take that into custody for security purposes”. I say something like “Wow. OK, alright, I’m so sorry, just do whatever you need to do”, and begin psychologically preparing to have my anus searched for additional paraphernalia before he starts laughing hysterically and says “HAHAHahahhahah, I’m kidding man!! Wow, you really fell for it!”, and I have no choice but to laugh along with him while thinking to myself how fucked up yet funny it is to be toyed with by a French customs officer on my very first trip to Europe.
So we get to our Toulouse Airbnb, at the top of a staircase that creaked like it may have been older than America. I crash for about 13 hours after a solid 30 of travel. Bam, internal clock is reset to GMT immediately. The sun rises the next morning, and I can’t help but appreciate the view out of the little window in the bathroom. My advisor called it the “fart escape” (I have a badass advisor):
We romp around the city so hard. Every morning, I get a pastry for breakfast from the shop around the corner before hopping on the subway to get to IRAP. Cool place, and the catering lined up some pretty sharp French cheeses for lunch each day (we’ll return to stinky cheeses later). I’ve built my fair share of plasma spectrometers, and all have had successful launches. But IRAP was a contractor on the Cluster mission, and it hurt me a little bit to see the ruined instrumentation on display in their lobby:
Since we work hard, we play hard. A colleague of mine calls dinner and whatever else “evening meetings”, even though they’re off the official agenda. And truthfully, a lot of science and networking gets done over dinner and drinks, which in Toulouse, happened to be underground for our last night in town:
It’s France, so there were these beautiful squares built into the city, each one unique:
There were plenty of other memorable moments in France, but we’ve gotta jet to another country. I’d never been even close to this high of a latitude (60° North) before, so it was a weird feeling, flying into Bergen(?) Intl. at 23:30 local time, and seeing the sunlight still kissing the coastline. Speaking of kissing, there was a couple from France clearly embarking on their honeymoon sitting in the two seats in front of me, and it took a lot of willpower to not tell them how cute they were. Why the Bergen(?) question mark, you may ask. I do not know (taken at local midnight just outside of the airport):
In hindsight, I should have spent the entire day following my arrival outside. Clear and warm weather is quite the rarity in Bergen, so I didn’t realize how precious the conditions were to the locals, but it makes sense, considering the vanishingly small amounts of clothing everyone was wearing. There was a pro-LGBT concert on the North side of this city-center lake, and I checked it out for a bit. Here’s looking from near the concert back South towards the hotel, the tall glass building in the shot:
Walking around Bergen, I saw some great street art. There was the 9-11 conspiracy graffiti:
And there were also several troll themed murals:
But the fucking fjords. I told one of my colleagues that Norway seems great, but that I can’t affjord it. Especially the booze, it’s about $15 just to drink a local beer in the top floor of the hotel! But you do get a great view. Here’s looking back North towards the pond, which is also the direction of the harbor:
And guys, if any of you ever go to a Scandic hotel, DO NOT skip the complimentary breakfast. It infuriated me that I wasn’t able to sample everything that was laid out, even with 6 mornings to attempt to do so. But, right, the fucking fjords. Yeah, I took more pictures of the fjords than I have taken pictures in the entire year preceding this trip. Let’s just put one here, because omfg, it was overwhelmingly beautiful. One of my coworkers on the boat with me explicitly asked me to stop saying “wow”, and I tried, but then I was back to it about 5 minutes later. This is the small city of Undredal, where there are 100 people, and five times as many goats. Sorry for the poor quality, we were constantly motorboating around:
It was cheaper to fly out of Oslo than Bergen, so I took a 6 hour train, and spent the night in Oslo, near the airport. Took a bullet train into town the day before flying out, and watched one of the World Cup games at a pub downtown with a plumber from Finland in town for a construction job. We had several generously-sized glasses of local beers. I said my goodbyes, and walked around town and saw a lot of people out enjoying the good weather. Got a good shot of the cool harbor opera house (move over, Sydney):
Then I went home, and moved between two major Texas cities. Somewhere in there, my girlfriend took me to Austin for my birthday, and if you ever visit the place, go to the bridge on Congress Street right before sunset so that you can witness 1.5 million bats emerge from under the bridge. My girlfriend (of 8 years!) and I dug it:
Worked for a few months in the interim, had my first paper published, and then it was time for another flight across the pond for another meeting. Flew into the Eurozone through Munich again, and took a train down to the Seggau Castle. I was absolutely exhausted after a long day of transit/working, but the beauty of the Austrian countryside kept me awake the entire train ride down to Leibnitz:
The castle was great, and it’s too bad that I was booked up with lectures and meetings for just about every moment of daylight. It’s the residence of a Catholic Bishop, and is also home to a winery that we visited one evening for a tasting and dinner. The food was fantastic. Like every castle we saw, Seggau Castle is up on a hill, and doesn’t easily lend itself to photography shy of using a drone, but here’s a shot of the bell tower I got when I snuck away during a coffee break one morning:
On our last night, my advisor decided to spearhead a trip down to Slovenia, since it was only a 45 minute drive. It was my first and only foray behind the ol’ iron curtain to date. The architecture changed to a more brutalist, concrete-based style after crossing the dividing line, and interestingly, the iron curtain footprint did not coincide exactly with the border of the relatively new (established 1991) Slovenia border. Here’s the most prominent Franciscan church in Maribor, where we went inside and scored a headnod from one of the Friars after dropping some very loud Euros into the donation box:
We went to dinner at probably the most expensive place in town. It took four goddamn hours! Granted, it was a six course meal, but it only cost ~40 Euro, so I was kinda misled by the price. I guess I didn’t normalize for the local cost of living. Two of the guys at our table ordered a cheese platter for one of their courses. BIG MISTAKE. Three of the four cheeses were palatable, but the fourth put an incredibly foul air into the atmosphere. Several people sampled this wretched cheese, but the two who ordered it felt the need to really commit to a mouthful. Watching them do everything in their power to not puke all over the rest of us was easily the highlight of my evening. It turns out that this cheese is unique to Slovenia, where it is fermented inside of the stomach of a dead sheep for three weeks. I can’t imagine why exactly zero other countries are importing the stuff. We also noticed that the restroom had headrests over the urinals, but none of us were quite the right height to utilize them. Not that we would have, because there was some discoloration directly in the center, presumably from oils on the skin, indicating that people have indeed used them. We had a lot of fun with the repercussions of this:
So then the meeting is over, and we head to Innsbruck, Austria, for one night before getting back to Munich to fly out again (saved quite a bit of money by using Munich as our hub instead of going through Vienna). Our good weather spell is coming to a close, but not before we arrive at our hotel balcony. I wish we would have arrived sooner, so I had more photons to work with. You could see miles and miles down the valley to the right of the Church’s steeple, and as is so oft the case, the picture doesn’t do it justice:
The next day is miserable weather, but like Bergen, fairly typical for a town subject to the influence of mountains. We made the most of it, and went downtown to the pedestrian district, where we visited the Golden Roof. Despite the poor weather, a regular schedule of Austrian folk bands played underneath a tent below the roof, although I must have taken this during an intermission:
My advisor is the great(x8) granddaughter of a local Innsbruck hero who rose to fame commanding the local army against an invading Napoleon. The Austrian forces were successful in their defense, as Napoleon was quite unaccustomed to mountainous warfare. There’s an entire museum in this guy’s name, down the hill from the ski jump built when Innsbruck hosted the 1964 Olympics. Even with the cloud deck so low in the sky, this overlook of the city near the museum was fantastic:
Later that day, we rode the rails once more, back to Munich, and had dinner at the famous Ratskeller. It was a little pricey, and more than a little touristy, but I needed some schnitzel one last time. Flew back over the Atlantic the next day, and made it home A-OK.
I’ve got another few trips planned in the coming months, and undoubtedly many more after that, so trip reports may become semi-regular for me. Oh, and I'll be in D.C. in about a month if anyone wants to chill.
Tagging steve, ‘cuz you explicitly told me to do this.
One more thing, something that’s been bothering me. Attending international scientific conferences full of people who understand the detriment of climate change is an especially high degree of irony, considering the immense carbon footprint of international plane travel. I’m not sure what to do. I tried “true” VR a few weeks ago for the very first time, and while fun, it felt clunky, and likely to inhibit the efficiency of exchanging complex ideas face-to-face. Maybe in time VR will improve, but it can’t come fast enough. If you made it this far down the wall of text/pics and have any thoughts, lay ‘em on me.
I always knew you were Egon Spengler